In the Church, the Sunday before Christmas is called the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. The Gospel passage, Matthew 1:1-25 (see below), reveals the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The Evangelist categorizes the ancestors of the Lord in three groups of fourteen generations.
Importantly, those identified by name include all people, that is, men and women, righteous and sinful, kings and peasants, rich and poor. It reinforces the point, central to His Incarnation, that the Son of God identified with and became part of humanity to every person without exception. It also prefigures what St. Paul would write to the Galatians:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:26-29).
Part II of our Christmas Spiritual Nourishment series, however, will draw attention to the last paragraph of the Gospel reading that focuses on Joseph’s apprehension and uneasiness with the fact that the Ever-Virgin Mary “was found to be with child.”
There are three points in particular that are worth exploring and connecting each of them with the present situation in today’s society and our relations with our family, friends, neighbours, and strangers.
The first is the peril of perceiving something to be true that is actually false. Joseph, who is a great saint of the Church and, together with St. Anna, commemorated each year on September 9th, was certain that the Theotokos had conceived a child with a man and thus “resolved to divorce her quietly.” Let us reflect on this point and consider: how often do we think we know something as a “fact,” but in reality are wrong? Thinking that we are always, or almost always, correct, and everyone else incorrect, is easy, but dangerous. For that reason, in a society where self-righteousness is in abundance, let us all attempt to be more merciful, more understanding, more forgiving, and more discerning.
The second lesson is the approach Joseph decided to take following his preliminary (and ultimately incorrect) decision to divorce the Ever-Virgin Mary. Matthew the Evangelist describes Joseph as “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame.” It was actually the expectation under the Law at that time that Joseph would expose the supposed sin of the Theotokos. Instead, he decided to take a more discerning and quite approach. Notwithstanding the fact that he reversed course after “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream,” let us reflect on the initial approach of St. Joseph: is this how we behave when we are in the “right”? Are we humble and respectful towards the other person, not wanting to make a bad situation even worse, while at the same time leaving open the possibility that we may be wrong? Or, on the other hand, are we loud and boisterous, quick to publicly point out the sins and errors of our fellow man? Let us always recall the famous Bible passage: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7).
The third and final takeaway is the faith of St. Joseph and the trust he showed in the Lord following the angel proclaiming to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” He did not insist on his own way; he did not assert his own claim on the truth; he did not try putting himself above God and maintain his own thought was the right one. Instead, he had a “contrite and humbled heart” (cf. Psalm 50); he was open to receiving the messenger (angel) of the Lord; he was willing to trust himself less and to trust God more. What a wonderful, real-world example this is for us, especially today when the pandemic has shattered the supposed certainty of man and has compelled us to strengthen our faith in God, Who is the “creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible” as we recite at the beginning of the Creed.
Today’s Gospel reading offers us a unique insight and concrete connection to the birth of Jesus Christ. It also offers us many lessons, through the example of St. Joseph, that we can contemplate upon and implement in our own lives, namely: self-reflection when we think we are right; responding to the “errors” of others with silence, humility, and prayer; and, trusting and loving the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind (cf. Matthew 22:37). With less than one week until we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us hasten towards repentance so that we may be filled with the joy of His Nativity.
The Gospel According to Matthew 1:1-25
The book of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.